Tag Archives: musician

Weekend Coffee Share… 26th November, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, before I get much further, I should tell you it was much husband’s birthday earlier in the week and we had a wonderful lunch out together at a restaurant across from our local beach. The weather was stunning and we had such a relaxing time. Well, it would’ve been more relaxing if a group of young whippersnappers weren’t discussing their investment strategies and how much money you should leave in the pot. I was very tempted to ask them to ****up and tell them that some people actually like to enjoy life. Go out for lunch to get away from all of that. I can guarantee that when I was their age, I wasn’t discussing investment strategies. However, eventually the bright sun forced them inside and out of earshot.

IanCooper38_lg-300x226

By the way, my apologies on the food and beverage front today. About all I can offer you is tea, coffee, water and some great music. I’m sitting out at my desk listening to Ian Cooper: Hard Axe to Follow featuring  violinist Ian Cooper, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel and Maestro Tommy Tycho. This where my story gets rather humbling, which is hardly surprising for someone who bills themselves as: “The Closet Violinist”. Even if you’re shy, if you have a modicum of talent, someone eventually drags you out of the closet into some kind of public arena. Wants to bless the world with your magic. Not so for a poor closet player. They either leave the door, shut or slam it in your face. People can be so insensitive!!

Anyway, as I said, I’m listening to Ian Cooper Ian Cooper and this piece of music is vaguely familiar and moving out of the background, until I’m wracking my brain trying to work out what it is. Indeed, I’m even glaring at the back of the cover, and still not getting any wiser. Clearly, I should’ve finished my cup of tea before I began this simple, yet apparently ambitious task. The peanut butter sandwich clearly wasn’t enough either. As it turns out, much to my embarrassment, they were playing a reinvention of Dvořák’s Humoresque . I say much to my embarrassment, because I’ve been learning this piece for over the last three months. I guess it’s a bit like when you’re introduce two close friends, and have a temporary memory lapse and can’t remember their name.

Meanwhile, the Closet Violinist is hard at work. For those of you with even a toe in the performing arts, you’ll know that the end of the year is concert season. So, I’ll actually be coming out of the closet and will be playing a duet of Danny Boy with my teacher at the end of year concert. Last week, she gave me a big tick of approval and said she’d be stoked if I played like that at the concert. Yet, I’m still working on it.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be surprised that practicing more, produces more practice and consequent improvement. It’s so exciting to be polishing off a handful of pieces and I’ll soon be moving from the Suzuki Book 3 onto Book 4, where I start learning concertos. It struck me that even if I’m only learning concertos, that I can’t keep saying that I can’t play the violin anymore. We Aussies can be an understated bunch. So, I think I’d now describe my playing as “could be better, could be worse”. How’s that for confidence and self-esteem? To be honest, I’m just grateful when my violin doesn’t squeak or do its infamous cockatoo screech. While the violin can be such an incredibly beautiful songbird (even when I play it), it can also be so cantankerous. Yet, I must say I was encouraged recently when a newfound friend, who is an incredibly talented musician, said all musicians wrestle with their instruments. By the way, as you may be aware there are definite parallels between mastering an instrument and conducting a passionate love affair…the love, the intensity, arguments, silence and all too often a parting of ways possibly after a physical break of some description.

Amelia at Nursing home

Our Daughter performing her contemporary solo at a local nursing home. Photo: Dancin Mates.

This weekend, however, it wasn’t my turn to shine. My daughter performed with the Dancin Mates Dance Team at a local nursing home. They did the opening number from the upcoming annual concert and they each performed their solos. It’s been awhile since my grandparents were living in nursing homes now and this is the only time I visit one these days. I’m really pleased my daughter is involved with these performances, as it’s important to try and cheer up people who might be doing it tough and bring a ray of sunshine indoors to people who may not get out all that often. Even just being themselves and wearing their dazzling costumes would be enough to brighten someone’s day but then to see them dance, is utterly magical. Some of these young people are in the process of transitioning into the professional dance world and so they weren’t just seeing people with nowhere else to go. My parents also came up to watch which was very special for us.

There have also been some challenging times over the last few weeks. My health is doing well and my endoscopy and colonoscopy haven’t picked up anything too nasty. However, I have a friend battling advanced Motor Neurone Disease and things with her have been really difficult lately. There were a couple of days where I was so angry about it and ended up finding solace on my violin, which isn’t something I’ve consciously done before. After all, as a beginner, all that screeching is hardly relaxing. I have also been listening to some violin music and that’s been very cathartic as well. I think the tone of the violin, especially when it hits the high notes, really releases the anguished or troubled cry of the soul. Any thoughts?

I did a bit of baking through the week. It started out with attempting to make a birthday cake for my husband using GF flour. I don’t know what happened because what went into the cake doesn’t resemble the recipe and then the cake didn’t rise. While I was waiting to decide its fate, the dog decided to help herself and Geoff heard the tin crash on the floor and half the cake was gone by the time he got there. Golly. These dogs are quick. Fortunately, there had been two layers. By this stage, the logical thing was to throw it out. However, I must believe in raising the dead after all. I broke the cake up and decided to do a variation of a family dessert…Chocolate In-Betweens. In the original you have chocolate mouse in between sponge fingers which have been dashed with sherry. In this version, there was chocolate cake smothered in cream, splashed with Frangelico and then covered in the chocolate mouse filling from the original cake recipe. The patient was removed to the fridge to rest. Much to our surprise, the result was incredibly scrumptious and will be the beginning of a new thing.

In terms of blogging, I’ve been a bit quiet this week and only participated in Friday Fictioneers with: The Secret

Well, on that note, I’m heading off. I hope you’ve had a great week. This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

The Prodigal Violinist.

Last Sunday, I performed Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring at “MY violin concert”.

Before you start asking me for the details of my national tour, or how to order copies of Ms+e shar them in the comments. CD, in the interests of brutal honesty, I should confess that it wasn’t actually MY violin concert after all. Rather, I was performing at: “Music in the Orchard”, put on my the music school where I learn the violin. I know that’s just a minor distinction. A question of being in the fine print, instead of having my name up in lights, but a point needing clarification.

Anyway, as it turned out. I deserved to have my name my name up in lights,and that’s just for turning up. Ironically, playing my violin turned out to be the easy part.

You see, our household has a thieving poltergeist, and last Sunday morning it gave its best performance yet.

The nightmare started when my glasses went missing. Indeed, it hid my glasses  so well, that it took three people to find them. Every night, I put my glasses on top of the pile of books beside my bed. However, it’s not uncommon for me to send them flying during the night, but they usually land in the same old, predictable places i.e. down beside the bed or under the side table. However, this time they travelled further afield and had actually dived into my shoes. In an embarrassing moment of capitulation, I had to call my husband home from Church to find them.

The poltergeists next target was my daughter’s tap shoes. As no day is sacred in our end of year schedule and we’re double and triple booking and splitting the kids and ourselves up between us, my daughter had dance photos on the same day as my violin concert. While I’d really been looking forward to her hearing me play and being a part of my special day, I dropped her off at the dance studio as I headed up the hill. By this stage I was running late for my concert, but I figured that I wouldn’t be the opening act and would be well down the pecking order towards the end.

No such luck!

No sooner had I got there, and I was tuning up and praying to whoever it is who takes pity on mothers trying to pull off a performance while supporting their children and is lucky to be dressed at all, let alone made up. And, as for getting those fingers, strings and bow to cooperate, it was, going to take desperate prayer and serious pity. A case of the prodigal violinist… “I know you haven’t practiced enough, but I’ll help you play those strings and together we will make sweet music.”

As it turned out, I did have a guardian angel and that was my teacher, who was not just playing a duet alongside me. She was my accompaniest and a good accompaniest enhances the performer and compensates for their mistakes to make them look better. I knw she had my back, which gave me the confidence to get up on stage at all when I was only just adequately prepared.

So, let’s fast forward to my actual performance. I was playing Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. It is a fairly difficult piece, but it starts out relatively easy and gets more difficult as you go along. I usually managed it through the first page alright but struggle with the rest. Indeed, we had been looking at cutting out the middle section, but I really liked it and found it very dramatic so I bumped up the practice and went into prove it mode.

However, after all the stress of actually just getting to the venue and trying to find my bearings, I started stumling right from the start and my fingers weren’t getting into gear. There was part of me which was starting to feel my performance was doomed. That if I couldn’t even get the start right, I was really going to botch up the other bits. It was that same kind of dread which overtakes your stomach when you’re on a rollercoaster  and your peering straight down over the edge of the very earth. You are going to die! Yet, at the same time, there was also that awareness that the show had to go on. That I couldn’t give up. I just had to make it to the end.

Then, the strangest thing happened.

After stumbling at the start, I actually nailed the rest of the piece and it really did sound sensational as a duet.

I have a very patient and encourging teacher! A veritable angel!

Do you have any performance stories you’d like to share? Please share in the comments.

xx Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share 26th March, 2027.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

You’ve struck it lucky this week. After weeks and weeks of torrential rain, today I can finally offer you a cup of sunshine, which, when you’d been deprived of sun for so long, is pure gold and way better than a measly tea or coffee.

The sun is shining. So, why on earth am I sitting inside on my laptop when I should be outside seizing the rays?

It’s okay. I’m working on it. I’m still waking up and trying to psyche myself up for my “twenty minute walk”. Now that the rain’s stopped, I’ve run out of excuses for the physio. So, I’ve gotta: “Move it! Move it! Move it!” I almost feel like praying for rain. And for all of you motivation types, I know I’ll enjoy it once I get started and that it’s about time I went and checked out the beach before Winter sets in, but the power of the couch is very alluring.

I am finally starting to get a bit of direction and focus at last.

About a month ago, I received a rather generous assistance package through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This included a physio, Occupational Therapy and psychology combo as well as a personal mentor, 9 hours of cleaning and a budget to really Spring clean the house and get it back in order. Ten years of chronic illness have truly swamped the place!! So, at the moment we’re getting started. Friday, I began the dreaded process of sorting through about 5 in trays, hoping that by now, all that paperwork was well and truly redundant and headed straight for the WPB (waste paper bin AKA recycling).

Woy Woy March 20

Taken on one of my recent “ten minute walks”.

The other advantage of getting rid of this excess paperwork, is that it distracts the mentor from culling my collections. After all, if anything is well into that endangered category of “not being used for the last 6 months and collecting dust”, it’s my collection of antique and vintage tea cups. Moreover, even I have to admit there’s considerable “excess”. However, before I do the hard yards sorting through my beloved “old ladies”, I’d much rather throw out the old school notes.

1936 Eunice in London

Meanwhile, I’ve been head down tail up transposing newspaper articles about my grandmother’s career as an international concert pianist. These started going online the week of her funeral, which was rather freaky at the time when articles from 1935 suddenly started rising to the surface. I am viewing her career through a much broader social context, which is much more time consuming but has created a much more interesting story line. For example, there was a review of a London performance which she’d kept as a clipping in her scrapbook. However, when I found it online this week, I read the full article which mentioned the arrival of Sudeten Jews in London in 1938 and how Jewish children were being adopted by English families. It’s fascinating reading history forward instead of reverse, which, of course, is how it was experienced.

One thing which has been quite interesting about researching my grandmother’s journey, is that I am reading all these facts, stories etc as her grand-daughter, a writer-storyteller and researcher and NOT primarily as a musician. I read the list of her performance pieces like a shopping list, yet without the  recognition. I’ve been ploughing through the articles and trying to get through them all and so stopping to listen to the music itself hasn’t been a priority. However, I finally Googled Beethoven’s Waldstein and a few others, and they were as familiar to me as breathing. They were such a part of my childhood and I remember falling to sleep to them on my parents’ laps. It’s so precious to relive these moments, even if it is through the exceptionally humble speakers on my laptop. So, I am inspired to listen to these more and to get the stereo operational. That is, if that thing is still called a stereo!

Meanwhile, real life realities always beckon me back from the joys of research and discovery. I’m finalising my daughter’s application for the local high school, while we wait on the results of the selective schools’ test. This involves an academic test for selective class and three auditions for the CAPA or performing arts stream. These auditions are filling me with dread. STRESS x 3 is not something to look forward to and I am becoming quite an adept motivational coach as she does various auditions. It’s just lucky that I’m a natural performer. It’s just an ironic twist that I don’t have an act, unless you include stand-up comedy after my latest trip.

dancer box

Just as well I have my own creative and stress outlet. Tomorrow night, I have my last contemporary/jazz dance class for this term. I am truly going to miss these classes. We have so much fun. Not only with the dancing, but with the hilarious commentary, my pink satin ballet shoes with ribbons attached and the way so many of us seemingly “breathe out” during these classes. I know this sounds like a paradox, because learning dance as an adult sounds very intense and it’s such a perfectionist thing, but we’re not trying be prima donnas. We’re wanting to stretch ourselves physically, psychologically and philosophically and laugh from head to toe. It’s magic…even if my dancing has a way to go!

I have cut back on writing on my blog this year. However, I am still enjoying writing my weekly flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers. You can read this week’s effort here.

So, how has your week been? I hope it’s been great and that the week ahead goes well for you too!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Nerd In the Brain. You can join in the  Linky.

Xx Rowena

The Makings of a Leader-Jacqueline Du Pré, Cellist.

 “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?”

-Jacqueline Du Pré, Cellist.

Photo: Jacqueline du Pré, cello. Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sergiu Сеlibidache, conductor 1967

 

Proust Questionnaire: Making Mistakes.

As you might be aware, I’m working my way through the Proust Character Questionnaire as background research for the Book Project.The journey started here:

Continuing right along with the Proust Questionnaire, we’re now up to question 3:

What is the Trait you deplore most in yourself?

Addressing this question in 2015 well beyond the Victorian era when it was posed, I’m a little taken aback.

Aren’t you supposed to be asking me about my strengths before we get stuck into the weaknesses? Isn’t that how this thing works? Don’t I get an opportunity to shine before I hang out all my dirty laundry?

Smile!

Smile!

Well, I guess you could say things were a little different back in 1890 when Proust responded to the questionnaire as a teenager. This was long before phrases like: “Greed is good” and “looking after Number 1” came into vogue.

Indeed, dare I mention the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

I might be wrong but it seems like the Victorians were more concerned about what they were doing wrong than doing right. After all, this seems the era where you constantly renovated yourself, rather than your house.

However, when it comes to the trait I most deplore in myself it has to be making mistakes. I really don’t like making mistakes and often feel like a bumbling idiot.

Sponge Cake

Sponge Cake

Take yesterday’s sponge cake for instance. I probably took it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, which meant that the top was still a bit too moist. There I was staring at perfection one minute and then the top stuck to the wire cooling rack and just like a skinned knee on bitumen, it was savagely ripped off. While it might have looked funny for the blog photo and made me look endearingly human, I didn’t want to be human. I wanted perfection. I wanted to swan around at home as if I’d just won Best Cake in Show at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Violin Concert 2013.

Violin Concert 2013.

The same goes with playing my violin. I cringe every time that jolly instrument squeaks, even though violins are legendary for being difficult, temperamental and just plain nasty. If you think a two year old child can throw the world’s greatest tantrum, you haven’t met a violin and yet, they can sing like an angel too!

There I was two years ago practicing for my preliminary exam with my accompanist and it was so hot that my fingers were sliding down the strings. After all those months of practice, to have my performance compromised by the heat was almost the last straw. I could’ve hurled that violin straight of Sydney’s most famous suicide spot The Gap without a second thought.

Indeed, my aversion to making mistakes on my beloved violin was so intense that I arrived at the examination rooms an hour early to warm up (despite the heat). When there was nowhere to practice, I went downstairs onto Sydney’s busy York Street and set myself up in an empty bus shelter practicing away as bicycle couriers, buses and cars whizzed past. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I was going to get my A…and I did!

So, as much as I hate myself for making mistakes, I do admire myself for those times where I keep pushing through, persevere and finally reach victory!

A family photo Mother's Day 2007.

A family photo Mother’s Day 2007.

When it comes to making mistakes as a parent, of course, the list is endless but at least I never left the baby at the bus stop or failed to pick the kids up from school. Most of what I term mistakes are actually more funny incidents in retrospect. Such as the time, our newborn son was still crying at 2.00AM and my husband put him in the pram and took him for a walk through the local shops and his screams were apparently quite deafening as they echoed through the empty streets. There was also the time we completely freaked out because he’d turned orange. We’d thought he was dying but he’d simply eaten too many orange vegetables. There were also his explorations which took him on top of the back shed at 2 years and looking like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he marvelled at the “mountains” and how different things looked from up there. Another time, he fell off the back shed and Mummy caught him. He also got stuck exploring under the house and did I mention anything about climbing trees? Our daughter cut her finger when she was 3 and needed surgery after that.There have also been many hours where my children have had to occupy themselves as the ravages of living with my auto-immune disease took over.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

I’m sure this list of parenting mistakes is only going to extend now that our son’s about to start high school and we’ll soon be embarking on the teenage years.

What I hate most about this fear of making mistakes, however, is not the mistakes I’ve actually made. Rather, it’s all the things I’ve never tried because I anticipated failure and gave up before I’d even started. This list is so long and very humbling but I have started working on it. I am moving forward with the book project and while attempting complex recipes I’d put off might seem a relatively trivial thing to overcome, I disagree. Baking can be a very non-forgiving science. When making sweets, you usually need to be very precise and precise isn’t my strength. I’m much more slap dash and intuitive. Moreover, due to my medical conditions, strictly following procedures and getting things in the right order isn’t always easy for me. So baking can actually  be quite challenging. Of course, these challenges multiply expediently when I’m cooking with the kids. Of course, they add a whole extra layer of distracting confusion, as much as I love cooking with them. It can be quite hard when I’m making something new and I don’t know what I’m doing and they can step in and add all the wrong things at all the wrong time, all with good intentions of course. Unfortunately, this is when my aversion to making mistakes rears its ugly head and I might snap at the kids, morphing into something of a Gordon Ramsay disgusting myself completely and it’s tears all roun.

Thank goodness for “Sorry”!

Fortunately, most mistakes aren’t fatal.

We can have another go and seriously who expects to get things right the first time? Yes, I know we all do.It would be great but it’s not realistic. It takes practice. trial and error. More error than success but giving up is a guaranteed fail.

When it comes to stuffing up our relationships, “sorry” is a good start but change is always possible and alongside sorry comes forgiveness. Not always possible but I’m talking more about garden-variety crimes than the big ones. We all hurt each other unintentionally possibly more so than through intent.

How could she do anything wrong?

How could she do anything wrong?

Although as a parent these days, I’m more focused on my parenting crimes, I still tend to gloss over those crimes I committed as a child. That same sense of entitlement I don’t like seeing in my own kids…a lack of appreciation to outright rebellion.

There was a certain party I had when my parents went away for the weekend but hey at least hordes of gatecrashers didn’t turn up along with a Police helicopter. As great a crime as it might have been, having a handful of trusted friends over could have been a hell of a lot worse. Moreover, the effort that went into devising a story to tell my Dad was worthy of an epic novel and gave us all quite a lesson in creative writing. Being a writer himself, he should have appreciated that but he had his “Dad” hat on at the time.

So, above all else, I owe my parents a huge bunch of sorries. Most of all for being critical of their parenting efforts and not understanding that everybody makes mistakes. That we’re all human and simply can not walk on water. That’s a hard lesson for us all!

I know we can't just rub out all our mistakes but it's worth a try!

I know we can’t just rub out all our mistakes but it’s worth a try!

The next question on the Proust Questionnaire is: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Dare I say being perfect? Getting it right the first time?

Ouch! That’s tempting but as I said, I’m only human!

xx Rowena

N is for Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Life.

Welcome to N for neuroplasticity on the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme for the challenge is: A Few of My Favourite Things and while neuroplasticity might seem left-field, I really want you to follow me on this journey because the power of neuroplasticity has radically changed my life and understanding how it works, can help you as well. You can read an overview of my journey in my About page here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/about/.

While I can appreciate that neurplasticity might sound intimidating and be a trigger to flick to another blog, it is not as complex or mentally challenging as you might think. Nor is it some wafty, unproven fad. It’s a proven, scientific process, which has been championed by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr Norman Doidge through his two books: The Brain which Changes Itself and The Brain’s way of Healing.

In other words, it’s not a fairy story.

Neuroplasticity is really quite a simple concept when you explain it properly and when you harness its strength, you like me, will experience absolutely miraculous change. Unfortunately, you will still experience those “stubborn mules” which prove stubbornly resistant. However, at least, you know you’ve done your best to try and move them!

From what I’ve learned about neuroplasticity, we shouldn’t just be teaching kids the 3Rs but also how we learn. Some basics on how the brain works such as “use it or lose it” and how “practice perfects”. That our success or failure is based less on innate talent than hard work and that it takes a lot of hours…at least 10,000 to be precise, to even have a chance of making it to the top of our field. That success just doesn’t arrive on a silver platter.

Of course, some people have been blessed with bigger, faster engines but if they leave them in the shed, they’ll soon be overtaken by apparent snail power and left behind.

If you and your kids can get a grasp on how this works, you’ll never look back. You’ll still have ups and downs but you will be more empowered and skilled-up to tackle them more effectively. There’s little doubt you’ll be working harder but I guarantee you that whatever you apply yourself to, will see results. It’s as simple as:

1+1 = 2

It’s not rocket science.

Perhaps, the simplicity of it all is what stops people from having a go. We’d much rather put our faith in a much more complicated, mystical route than sticking to potentially tedious, repetitious practice and hard work…going over and over and over our mistakes until we have overcome them and “got it”.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

Diagram showing brain activation while playing the violin.

As a musician, I’ve experienced this first hand. Instead of playing my favourite sections of a piece over and over again, my teacher gets me reworking the rough bits and playing them over and over again. She doesn’t say: “Play it again, Sam”. Being somewhat of a slavedriver, albeit a very nice one, she says: “I want you to play that section 10-20 times a day to get it right”. This sort of detailed practice is quite foreign to me as I just want to get up there and play, especially to an audience but you can’t do that straight away. It might be a year’s worth of practice on that one piece of music to bring it to the level of perfection where it can be performed. That’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. However, once I have reached that long-awaited moment of victory, it’s like nothing else. A real eureka moment and I’m running down the street naked like Archemedes carrying my violin. Well, not quite but you get my drift!

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. He writes “that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!” Indeed, our brain is constantly remoulding and fine-tuning itself.

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

Neuroplasticity and Acceptance.

At the start of 2012 after a serious health scare, I set a personal challenge. I applied neuroplasticity to the serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr

You see, since forever, people have been telling me to accept things and quoted that prayer. Yet,  the trouble was that I simply didn’t know what I could change and what I had to accept and that’s what I decided to put to the test. I didn’t really set out with any clear cut goals but I was needing to lose some weight, which is a tough call when you’re taking prednisone AKA the “fat drug”.

It was during this time that I heard about brain plasticity and also the 10,000 hour rule and so what I was starting to appreciate was that I wasn’t set in stone. That all these words I used to describe myself, both the good and the bad, weren’t indeed words tattoed on my forehead which couldn’t be changed. They were more like stepping stones or train stops on a journey. I didn’t have to stay there. I could apply a bit of elbow grease and I could move on. Indeed, I was now in the driver’s seat and with the accelerator pushed to the floor, I was flying.

That was until I drove straight into pneumonia followed by a flare up of my auto-immune disease, which really was attacking my lungs this time and threatening my very existence.

Yes, neuroplasticity couldn’t fix everything.

However, my lungs have also responded to the same kind of repetitive practice and hard work which I’d applied to practicing my violin, except in this case I focused on building up my healthy lung cells instead of focusing on the damage and limitations. My lung volumes have since increased from a recorded low of 43% to 62% and are currently stable. In a sense it was a miracle and also the result of medical intervention but it also takes ongoing hard work.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to start walking before that all important tide comes in and puts me out of business.

Living in a tidal zone really reinforces the need to carpe diem seize the day because “the tide waits for no (hu)man.”

Xx Rowena

PS When school goes back next week, I’ll be having to reacquaint myself with my violin. It has been rather neglected of late and I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made!!

Sources

http://www.normandoidge.com/

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

Community is a Symphony…Not a Solo Performance!

As much as we might deify the Renaissance “Man” and worship the modern cult of celebrity, it’s easy to forget that community is a symphony, not a solo performance. That we need an eclectic diversity of voices, cultures and thoughts to create the depth and richness we need to be an innovative, creative, meaningful and productive society. A diverse community not only means a healthier community but it creates a more inclusive sense of belonging rather than those mutually hostile “us” and “them” enclaves which can potentially become very destructive.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Rennaisance Man.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Rennaisance Man.

Moreover, for community to progress, those different parts need to come together not as one colourless, amorphous blob but as an integrated whole where each retains its sense of self and unique character. This is like individual musicians coming together to form an orchestra where instead of playing a solo, the different parts harmonise to produce a richer, more complex and mind-blowing sound.No one player, other than a soloist, dominates the performance and different instruments stand out or indeed rest throughout the piece.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in front of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in front of the Sydney Opera House

Not unsurprisingly, all this synchronised integration doesn’t just magically happen with the click of the fingers. Oh no! Coordinating all these varied musicians, each potentially exceptionally talented in their own right, not only takes a conductor and their stick but it also asks each individual musician to give up something of themselves for the performance.This is a big ask but they comply because while there is glory, adulation and enjoyment in being the prima donna soloist, there is something miraculous as well about being a small part of an incredible, much grander and even ethereal sound. It is also an incredible experience to play your instrument with fellow musicians where you somehow connect through those fusing sounds in a way that isn’t always possible through words.

The family playing violin

The family playing violin a few years ago.

Humble, novice violinist that I am, I play my violin in an ensemble. Most of the time the pieces we play are intentionally easier than our own pieces and sometimes my part is very basic. To be honest,sometimes it gets a bit dull. In some pieces, I’m playing lots of 4 beat semi-breves and when I practice at home, it can get a bit boring and tedious and I drift off. However, when I’m playing with the ensemble, the same part can actually become quite challenging  as I divert much of my concentration to listening to the other players as well as trying to perfect my timing. I am, after all, no longer an individual but part of an integrated whole which needs to work together. While we don’t want to sound like a machine, we do need that precision and timing. As I said, there’s depth, texture, complexity and as well as that spark which is created when a group of musicians comes together and adds an amazing je ne sais quoi. Put very simply, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Our violin ensemble performing at the school carols night.

Our violin ensemble performing at the school carols night.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

Nelson Mandela

I should also emphasise that when as our various parts harmonise, we are playing different notes for varying lengths of time and at a different pitch. Being in harmony, means difference coming together to produce a great sound not everybody playing exactly the same thing.

Sometimes, we forget that.

Ironically, while I’ve been thinking about the importance of difference coming together as an integrated, more inspirational whole,  World of Our Own by Australian 60s band  The Seekers, which coincidentally is renowned for its 4 part harmonies, came to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5pvpIvz5YQ

The Seekers

The Seekers

We’ll build a world of our own
That no one else can share.
All our sorrows we’ll leave far behind us there.
And I know you will find
There’ll be peace of mind
When we live in a world of our own.

The Seekers:”World of Our Own”.

 

However, building a cohesive, diverse community is continuous work-in progress, largely because individuals don’t want to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good or an element of extremism takes off which doesn’t tolerate any kind of conflicting view. For some of us and include myself here, the allure of being a prima donna is great. We want to be the star and strut around the stage. There are so many rewards for being Queen or King of Centre Stage and relatively few for being a backstage genius. However, we learn more when we listen and I dare say we also grow more when we work with others and learn how to work successfully together in harmony.

It is a challenge which begins with me.

Being a real prima donna posing outside Byron Bay Lighthouse on holidays. i almost died when someone asked me to play. 2013.

Being a real prima donna posing outside Byron Bay Lighthouse on holidays. i almost died when someone asked me to play.

xx Rowena

PS Thought I’d give Magic Johnson the last word:

“I have to tell you, I’m proudest of my life off the court. There will always be great basketball players who bounce that little round ball, but my proudest moments are affecting people’s lives, effecting change, being a role model in the community”.

Magic Johnson